Thomas' Plant-Related Blog

On plant science. Mostly.

Lentil germinates; 4000 years old?

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My supervisor tipped me off to the news that Turkish academics claim to have germinated a lentil seed which is 4,000 years old.

How does that story hold up? The primary source seems to be the Turkish newspaper linked to above. A bit of searching didn’t find it in a scientific journal (where scientists generally publish findings). To give them the benefit of the doubt, though, they could be waiting to confirm the age, or the paper could be on the way (publishing in a journal is rather slower than a newspaper). If true, it would be a new record for the oldest confirmed viable seed (Wikipedia entry), being about twice as old as the current record.

At present, the record is held by a date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) from about 2,000 years ago, which is not at all closely related to lentils. I don’t know how well pulses like lentils survive, but I know that they can form dormant seeds intended to last a few years before germinating, so it’s not completely implausible (if it was a grain of wheat, I’d be more suspicious).

The key question is whether it’s really as old as they think. They’ve estimated the age from the layer of soil where the seed was found, but it could have got down there later. It wouldn’t be the first time it had happened: just last year, scientists found that some Arctic lupine seeds weren’t 10,000 years old, after all. Hopefully they can do a radiocarbon date on some of the other seeds, or the seed coat, and check it.

The jury’s out. Or rather, it’s waiting for all the evidence.


Written by Thomas Kluyver

6 January, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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